The Big Read Blog (Archive)

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March 29, 2010
Washington, DC

Undated portrait of Edith Wharton from Library of Congress collection

Although Edith Wharton's writing chronicled the milieu of early 20th century, upper class New York, I think one of the qualities that makes her a "classic" writer is that the concerns addressed in her fiction and nonfiction remain quite relevant in contemporary times. Take for example this quote from The Decoration of Houses---published with interior designer Ogden Codman in 1898---which treats an idea still very much under discussion today.

If art is really a factor in civilization, it seems obvious that the feeling for beauty needs as careful cultivation as the other civic virtues....The habit of regarding 'art' as a thing apart from life is fatal to the development of taste...No greater servcie can be rendered to children than in teaching them to know the best and to want it.

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